Monday, March 24, 2014

THREE WOMEN WHO STAND UP FOR PEACE






 Let’s start with a trick question: Do you know what “drones” are?

Me neither. Or, more accurately, I didn’t know until March 20th, when I attended the “Three Women Who Stand for Peace: International Civil Rights in the Age of Drones” panel on campus. Now not only I know about drones, but I know a whole bunch of other things I had no clue about before.

Like for example that a lot of what the government tells you about development in countries like Iraq or Afghanistan is bullshit.

Okay, I might have suspected that one already! But now, thanks to Medea Benjamin, Ann Wright, and Kathy Kelly I have more evidence.

Medea, Ann, and Kathy are three women who have made their business to fight for the world peace and to inform the public about what is really going on behind the scenes. They should know – they travel all around the world and talk to people, which means that they often see things happening very differently than what we later see in the media.

Let’s look at their credentials:

Retired Army Col. Ann Wright spent 29 years in the Army and 16 years serving as a U.S. diplomat, before she quit in 2003 in protest to the war with Iraq. Ever since, she has been working relentlessly in increasing awareness about drones, their impact on civilians in countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan and the danger they present for American public.

You are probably wondering by now what the hell drones are and why I keep bringing them up. This is what a pamphlet from Voices for Creative Non-Violence says:

Drones, also known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are unmanned aircraft initially designed to collect various forms of data through surveillance. In recent years, they have been equipped with weapons designed to strike a target at a moment’s notice.

What it means, according to Col. Ann Wright, is that in countries like, say, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya, if you are a male between 18 – 30, all what it takes is a suspicion that you might be involved in terrorist activities and you are taken down without the opportunity to surrender and/ or being tried in the court. Ann, who spoke with dozens of families of drone victims over the years, thinks that this is very much not okay, especially coming from the country that is supposed to PROTECT human rights around the world, which so many Americans like to believe is what we are doing.

Due to the number of conflicting reports, it is difficult to reach a comprehensive estimate of deaths from drone attacks. One estimate claims that since the beginning of the drone war in Pakistan in 2006, there have been approximately 50 civilian casualties for every one militant casualty (Bergen, P. Revenge of the Drones. New America. 19 Oct 2009). Another source shows up to 2,100 civilians have been killed over the course of 283 drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004. (Pakistan Bodycount).

Oh. And one of the drone thingies can cost anywhere from $2 million to $15 million. No wonder that there is not enough money for healthcare, isn’t it?!

Another issue with drones, and that should be a concern for all of us, including the individuals who don’t give a shit about what’s happening in exotic countries that are not America, is that the government has been using drones to infiltrate citizens’ e-mails, phones, and other forms of (private) communication under the Patriot Act. If you think that you are an American citizen and as such have a right of privacy, you are sadly mistaken.

Let’s move on to another activist: Medea Benjamin, the founder of the peace group Code Pink. She is also big on drones, but additionally advocates for human rights in general, especially those of women and children from all around the world. She was kicked out from a press conference for interrupting President Obama’s speech about the War of Terror, which she did because he was full of shit (she didn’t use EXACTLY these words when she was telling us the story, but her message was crystal clear, trust me!). She had her arm in a sling during the panel because when she was arrested in Cairo, where her plane landed on her way to a women’s conference in Gaza, the guards dragged her in and out of her cell to the point of dislocating her shoulder.

Medea is 61 years old. One might think that a lady in early 60s would be reluctant to put herself into a situation like that – but we are talking about the woman who voluntarily went to Baghdad after the war started, so she could find Occupation Watch Center and serve as a watchdog of what the American military forces were REALLY doing in that country. When you are this brave, I guess one dislocated shoulder couldn’t stop you…

And then we have Kathy Kelly, the coordinator of the Voices for Creative Non-Violence, which is the organization that printed the pamphlet I quoted from above. A two-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee, she gave a powerful testimony about Afghanistan and about human rights (or, more accurately, lack of thereof) of Afghans, which the U.S. is supposed to protect. Feel free to guess what’s Kathy’s position on this :)

I wish I had more time and space to write about the panel, because trust me, I’m not doing those brave, wonderful ladies any justice here! Listening to them was such a powerful experience that it’s impossible to replicate in a blog. The best I can do is to summarize their shared mission, which I will do as follows:

1)      When it comes to international politics, and ESPECIALLY the wars, do not kid yourself that the government will tell you the truth, and question, question, question! The government will ALWAYS make shit up to justify its military actions in the world.

2)      The United States like to present itself as the world’s leader of democracy and protector of human rights, but its actions are often inconsistent with this mission statement.

3)      Drones are dangerous. They are currently killing civilians all over the world and invading people’s privacy at home. Chances are, both issues are going to get worse if left unchecked.

4)      Barrack Obama should have never received the Nobel Peace Prize.

If you are experiencing some emotional discomfort when reading these lines, I can assure you that I’m right there with you! Those who know me in person know perfectly well how much I love this country and how difficult it is for me to acknowledge that it often does, well, shitty things. But blind patriotism and lack of critical thinking is not doing anybody any service. We DO have the potential to be the greatest country in the world, but not if we allow the government to serve the interests of the (in) famous 1% instead of ALL citizens and to treat the whole rest of the world like an American colony. Let’s take advantage of people like Ann, Kathy, and Medea, who are willing to do the dirty work to educate us and to increase awareness!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

PICK UP A SHOVEL



by Roy Obriecht

With the onslaught of multiple plagues (many self-inflicted), a great frustration enveloped all the land. In spite of having the largest military in the world, thrice over, we are unable to feel safe from terrorism. We are still reeling from a mindlessly irresponsible financial crisis. Each day we spew ever-increasing amounts of CO2 into the only atmosphere we have. The best education system in the world has been turned it into the 27th ranked education system—and falling. We cannot provide enough jobs nor slow our runaway debt. And all of these problems have been known about for years, without any sign of real improvement. How could we not feel hopeless, helpless, and angry?

I need to blame someone. If we can get the bad guys, our problems will go away. I line up the usual suspects: predatory bankers, unscrupulous businessmen, union thugs, welfare cheats, greedy rich, slacker poor, heartless right, spendthrift left. I point to one, “You’ll do,” I announce, “You and anyone that looks like you.”  My vindictive crusade unfurls: I criticize and condemn, berate and belittle, and proclaim from the middle of our town square that these scumbags-of-evil are responsible for all that is bad in the world.

But it’s not enough. As the clouds overhead darken, I pick up a rock and let it fly at someone who might be one of them. I cheer as the rock clunks off his forehead, but the sense of satisfaction is fleeting, and I realize that it has made nothing better. So I throw more rocks, even harder. A woman walks by, picks up a rock, and joins me. Soon, many people are throwing many rocks, and yet somehow, the world’s mass of problems persist.

Fatigued and forlorn, I lay down my rocks, dust off my hands, and rub my temples in a state of absolute despair, staring blankly at everyone around me who is either still throwing rocks or who has, like me, given up in full.

Then, as the wind begin to calm ever so slightly, an old man approaches and asks me to follow him. He leads me out of town and we walk together until we are standing before a range of mountains so immense and imposing they block out the very sky itself.

“This is what we need to move,” says the old man, and then he tells me to pick up a shovel.

 I look at the old man, then at the mountains, and then back at the old man.

“Yes,” he says, “They are mountains.”

Under sober-grey clouds, I bend down and pick up a shovel and then thrust the blade forward in to one small area of dark, dense dirt.

A woman walks by and comes to stand next to me. She picks up a shovel.

Monday, March 3, 2014

WHY DISCRIMINATION SHOULDN'T BE LEGAL



Words cannot describe the relief I felt upon finding out that Governor Jan Brewer vetoed the bill that would have allowed business owners to refuse service to the LGBT population. You see, if Arizona passed the bill, I would have to start looking for a new country to emigrate to, because I refuse to live in one that makes discrimination legal. I shared some of my sentiments on Facebook and got immediately challenged by a friend of mine, who felt that by vetoing the bill the government prevented the business owners from expressing their religious freedom.

Now, I know the said friend well enough to feel positive that he doesn’t have anything against LGBT folks and that he is a pretty open-minded guy. He doesn’t like the government poking its nose into people’s private business and for that matter, neither do I. My friend’s comments made me think long and hard – yes, if I owned a shop, wouldn’t I expect to live by “my shop, my rules”? Of course I would! I’m all about self-determination, as people close to me know only too well. But I can’t help it; in this particular case, even though I do get where my friend was coming from, I feel that if sacrificing a little bit of my freedom would serve higher good, so be it.

I won’t even get into musings about how exactly would the whole thing work anyway, it’s too absurd. But let me ask you this: How long would it take before the idea would spread beyond stores and restaurants? I have a suspicion that it would snowball very quickly, considered how many religious fundamentalists we have in this otherwise wonderful country! And I personally wouldn’t want to live to see doctors arguing that they have a private practice and therefore are not obligated to treat anyone whose values are different from their own.

Even if we, for the sake of the discussion, stick with businesses like stores and restaurants, the implementation of such a bill is still problematic. Because it starts with the LGBT population as a precedent and then what? I remember a gentleman who had a speech on campus in the beginning of the school year and who was there to inform us about all the populations that will go to Hell unless they repent and accept Jesus as their savior. I don’t remember EVERYTHING that was on his board – I was just passing by – but I recall seeing Muslims, feminists, creationists, Buddhists, vegetarians (you really have to wonder!), and people who listen to heavy metal. So if a bill like this passes, what stops business owners to start excluding pretty much everybody who is not a Christian fundamentalist!?

My friend suggested that nothing would prevent me to simply boycott such businesses as a customer. But that’s all and well in the city or the suburbs! What about rural areas where there is often a handful of stores and restaurants in town and everybody knows everybody? If you are labeled as an undesirable, you might quite well find out that you are not able to eat out anymore – and let’s face it, in some more conservative areas it’s more than likely to happen.

I’m sorry, but no matter how carefully I’m pondering this, I see only a further spread of discrimination and religious hatred.

And what really got under my skin was an argument that just like we are free to do what we please with our bodies, we should be able to do the same with our businesses! I hit the roof before finishing reading the sentence. Are we REALLY free to do what we see fit with our bodies?! I beg to differ. For example an individual who finds himself suffering from a terminal illness accompanied by an unbearable amount of pain and suffering is going to find out very quickly that it’s not up to him to decide how much of said pain and suffering he is willing to bear. No, sir, that’s currently up to the government and the government says no, no matter what one’s religious convictions are. So if you are, say, an agnostic who doesn’t give a crap about what the Bible has to say on this topic and doesn’t believe that there is God who would penalize people for choosing a way out when the suffering becomes truly unbearable, it doesn’t do you any good whatsoever.

And who are the folks so opposed to people making their own choice in this matter?!

You got it – mainly the conservative religious right. So the people who are demanding the right to make their own choices about whom to serve as business owners are the very same people who are consistently working on restricting other people’s rights to do whatever they choose with their body, mind, and spirit. Euthanasia is, admittedly, an extreme example (it’s just that as a former nurse I feel strongly about it); but consider women’s reproductive rights! Or the fact that in the South it’s common for PUBLIC schools to forbid teaching the evolution theory or sex ed that is not based on abstinence – in PUBLIC schools funded by PUBLIC money! So I can’t help but see a double-standard here: If religious fundamentalists are so concerned about having the freedom to make choices based on their religion, shouldn’t they also be willing to give others the same freedom?

And since they have proven too many times that they are not, I say that the government has a duty to protect minorities whose lives are already difficult enough as it is! Howgh.